Battle of Arsuf, 1191

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Saladin versus Richard Couer de Lion: A Saracen army under Saladin harasses a Crusader army under Richard. Will Saladin’s provocations break the discipline of Richard’s soldiers? Also known as the Battle of Arsouf. .

Even with this crushing victory, the Third Crusade still ended in failure and so a Fourth Crusade was called in 1199. Arsuf may actually be a Saracen victory or a draw if one views it as “part of a gradual wearing-down of the European army to make it incapable of capturing Jerusalem” (Dougherty, 2006: 59).
This battle is a solid educational tool to illustrate when and how forces sustain casualties. Until the Saracen flight, the Crusaders had taken more than they had inflicted. However, whenever a force turns its backs to the enemy force to flee, it is utterly vulnerable and unable to defend itself. Virtually all of the 700 Crusader casualties were suffered before the rout which means the Saracens suffered roughly 6,300 casualties during the rout. Any student of war should understand that ability is not only measured when the outcome of the battle is undecided, but after the battle is decided, when an orderly retreat is required to maintain an effective fighting force or a deadly pursuit is required to prevent the enemy from regrouping.
arsuf preview 1Notes
My original idea for Season 1 was to have each battle illustrate one of the Seven Classical Maneuvers of Warfare being used successfully (Leuctra being the eighth, which was not intended to be animated). Arsuf illustrates “penetration of the center” although the Crusader cavalry charge broke though far off the true center of the Saracen line. Mohi Heath was intended to illustrate “feigned withdrawal” except the successful feigned retreat during this engagement occurred before the battle took place and it was not included in the animation.
– Jonathan Webb
Works Consulted
Chandler, David. The Art of Warfare on Land. Norwich: Jarold & Sons Ltd, 1974.

Dougherty, Martin. ”Arsuf, 1191.” In Battles of the Medieval World 1000-1500. London: Amber, 2006: 50-59.

Edwards, Sean J.A. “Swarming and the Future of Warfare.” Pardee Rand Graduate School. (Jan. 28, 2008).

Fratini, Dan. “The Battle of Arsuf.” Military History Online. px (Jan. 27, 2008).

Macdonald, John. Great Battlefields of the World. New York: Macmillan Publishing, 1987.

Rickard, J. “Third Crusade, 1189-1193.” History of War. (Sep. 30, 2008).

Crusader infantry:
Crusader knight:

Crusader turcopole:

Map of Europe and Near East:

Map of the world:

Richard Coeur de Lion:

Salah al-Din Ibn Ayyub:

Saracen cavalry:

Saracen light infantry:


Readers Comments (4)

  1. Lets do this again.
    This time orient the presentation with west to the left and east to the right. Remember they are traveling south along the shore line with a narrow space between the sea and the now missing forest.

    Walk through the door here and tell any of my staff that museums are boring. good luck !

  2. De Ostler,

    For a moment, question exactly why west should be on the left and east on the right. Then, expand on this and question why north should be on the top and south on the bottom. Often a silly question gets a silly answer: north is on the top, west is on the left and so forth because that’s how it looks on maps.

    Not all maps however. There is no inherent reason that specifies north must be on the top and the mere fact that north is on the top – or that Europe is in the middle for that matter – stems from cultural bias that has been diffused throughout history. The vast majority of current maps place Europe in the middle and on top to reflect the view that Europe is the figurative center and top of the world.

    In addition, the size and distortion of land masses is another aspect we must be aware of. The globe is of three dimensions and there is therefore great difficulty when flattening it to place on a map of two dimensions. John P. Snyder’s book “Flattening the Globe” appears to be one of the most informative works on the phenomenon. Take a look at this map, based on another formula for flattening the globe: Again, traditional maps tend to make the North appear larger because years ago, one particular formula which distorted the size of land masses was arbitrarily chosen to represent the world.

    Generally, I choose directions based on aesthetics. Unless the battle is particularly deep or multi-directional, a long battle front requires I place one force at the top and one at the bototm regardless of where north and south are. For battles of a greater scale (like France, 1940), I keep the north at the top so I do not confuse myself. An interesting dilemma is how I will animate the lengthy battle front for the Battle of Moscow, 1941).

    I knew my quip about museums being boring would get me into trouble some day! I’m sure the museum you speak of is certainly informative and not boring. Perhaps this quip should be taken as a challenge to improve upon existing methods of presentation with or without technology.

    Thank you for your post; I truly enjoy comments which force me to think carefully about my own work.

  3. To me, by far the most impressive thing about this battle is the discipline Richard was able to maintain in his force. Such discipline was far from the norm in medieval forces (see the English at Bannockburn, the Crusaders at Varna, and the French at Crecy and Agincourt, as prominent examples). On top of the usual issues of restraining overconfident knights hungry for glory and maintaining order and morale amongst lower-status foot soldiers, Richard at Arsuf had to keep control over a highly diverse and multinational force, with the zeal of a crusading army thrown in. Furthermore, Saladin’s entire battleplan consisted of tried and true tactics for breaking the discipline and cohesion of similar European forces.

    While some of Richard’s knights did ultimately charge without orders, he was still able to change his entire force’s posture from defense to a massive, coordinated attack in moments (discipline again), thus allowing him to build a new plan around the unauthorized charge.

    While I think Richard’s legend is overblown compared to his actual military accomplishments, Arsuf is a masterpiece of generalship by any standard.

  4. That the crusaders lost the 3rd Crusade is total BS. Richard won a victory before this at Acre and at the next battle b/w Richard and Saladin, Jaffa, the Muslims were so afraid of the Crusaders that Richard rode before the front lines daring the Muslims to attack and they didn’t! Granted, Jerusalem did not fall but the Crusaders were allowed to pilgrimage there umolested and they captured all the other important cities in the Holy Land

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